This week I bring you insight into the inner workings of one of Charleston’s most generous minds. Meet Carolyn Finch. She’s the founder of Charleston Women in Tech, been a guest and speaker at the White House, and mother to baby Juliette, who gently sleeps through the hustle and bustle of Black Tap on a crisp morning.
I met Carolyn during my first visit to the Charleston Women in Tech Meet-Up where we heard from Blue Acorn’s newest Marketing Director, Amy Hourigan, who is a badass and even spotted Mary Beth Westmoreland, the CTO of Blackbaud. As a newly minted developer I was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed into the tech fold so quickly. This is just the feeling Carolyn and her team aim to create. Through her leadership over 800 women working in Charleston tech have been united.
What brought you to Charleston?
Well, I’m originally from Maine but have lived on east and west coast. Charleston is a combination of both of those vibes and when my husband and I thought about the burgeoning tech and business scene, we decided to move here. We took the risk because we could (you should too!).
I studied law in New Hampshire and was able to meet many people while working in a patent office. What I discovered is I loved providing support, consulting, and mentorship to the entrepreneurs I would meet. I appreciate the nature of entrepreneurs but I, myself, am not one. I went to meet with the Charleston Digital Corridor and see what was happening within business in Charleston and it was a perfect fit.
How did the Meet Up group begin?
Once I discovered this passion and found a way into the world of entrepreneurs without being one I was able to get a snapshot and understanding of the landscape in Charleston. In my years at the Corridor Ernest was a wonderful mentor and guided me through the process of melding my passions and developing relationships. My main focus there became education. We created a code camp, then launched a kids program and broadened it. I could gauge interests on every level, working with big companies, their CEO’s, start-up founders, and part-time students working two jobs.
Some of the great women I met doing this were Tonya Davis from Trident Tech and Jamie Sue Goodman from Google. We all had the same sentiment: let’s create a place where we can meet, drink wine, and talk. Most networking opportunities are built with a strong male base but we didn’t really want to drink beer and play ping pong. So our very first meeting was May 2013 and we had 7 panelists and 20 attendees. They each told their story and we talked about common tech conversations and friction points they were experiencing.
The next one was bigger with break out sessions on hot topics in the industry, everything from HR to work-life balance. There were 60-70 attendees and we continued to do this every quarter, growing each time. Now we are hosted at tech companies throughout Charleston. These have each become like little mini conferences. Now we’re over 800 members strong and we’re a free resource for making friends, networking, and learning things women can leverage in their career.
What’s the advice you give to other people?
Get Connected! Network constantly. Young ladies in college forget to engage outside college. 9 out of 10 times, that’s where you get a job. It’s the personal connection. Women in tech are a commodity but it never hurts to have an internal advocate. You can ask for an informational meeting to better understand the role and the company. One of the stigmas about hiring women is they don’t fit the culture and most teams are all male, so having an advocate works against that. My number one piece of advice in life in general, is build your network as big as you can. Educate yourself and network with people who will support you and educate you.
What’s the best piece of advice you have received?
It came from Ernest at the Corridor. Constantly remind yourself who you are doing this for. Who is it for? It’s not for me. It’s not for the companies hosting us. Always remember to make sure the people getting the most benefit are the people it’s for. Make sure everything you do is inline with your mission.
Looking back at yourself as a child, what traits make you the best organizer for this type of group?
I have no tech background but having my law degree and understanding how to create something and understand all the parts and pieces that go together has been a great asset. I know that I am good at putting people in a room and making things happen. My social skills and public facing nature are also something I gained from my law degree but more importantly I learned to listen, just like I would listen to clients. Each event I listen to the members and the listening I did at the Corridor was what gave me the greatest insight.
Was there ever a moment of panic when you realized you were not going to be a lawyer?
My transition was more gradual. I was naturally pulled away and looking back I’m so happy I let that happen. I never thought my law degree would dictate my next steps. You can put your knowledge to use in many ways. It should be easy and feel natural and align with the goals you have for yourself. Find your mission and stand behind it. I never wanted to have a job where I couldn’t stand behind what I was selling.
Who is your spirit animal?
Juliette, my baby (currently situated in a cute papoose strapped to Carolyn’s chest). It is such a cool experience to see her personality grow. She’s become my little sidekick while I pursue my passion helping of women in tech.
Who is your Charleston fan girl?
Nina Magnesson from BoomTown, she’s absolutely incredible. We have a similar background and are close friends. We both lived in New York, then LA and landed in Charleston. We met here and I look up to and admire her. She has such a vision for this community and helping women.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Working with all of the women in Charleston and meeting new personalities makes me feel so lucky. I meet phenomenal established women like the aforementioned Mary Beth but I also get the chance to have a cup of coffee with newbies. I get to work with and experience work with women of all ages and backgrounds.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
I didn’t feel like I deserved it yet but going to the White House. It was an honor for me and and accomplishment for all women in tech. Meet Up was asked by the White House to do their first Meet Up and invite tech groups. They invited 50 groups from across the country and we were one of four all women meet-ups. I was was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak on women in tech.
Ladies, if you are at all interested in or involved in tech, join the Charleston Women in Tech Meet Up Group HERE. I highly recommend it. I have already been lucky enough to meet some amazing women and was just paired with a kick ass mentor.
If you would like to support their efforts, donate HERE and check out their Instagram to follow along on all their adventures.